GREEN BAY – Joe Whitt is taking responsibility for Sam Shields’ disappointing second season. Which is awfully nice of the Green Bay Packers cornerbacks coach, given what an appreciable step back Shields took last season after being a godsend as an undrafted rookie free agent during the team’s Super Bowl XLV title run in 2010.
“Sam’s problem was me. I did a poor job with Sam. I did a poor job with him. I took for granted that he knew or was going to know some things,” Whitt said during the team’s mandatory minicamp when asked why Shields, who served as the No. 3 cornerback in the Packers’ nickel defense, regressed in Year 2. “He’s still a young player. He’s now a three-year defensive player. And I did a poor job with him.
“Like I said his rookie year, if he plays poor, well that’s on me. He didn’t play as well last year, and that’s on me. He’s going to play better, because I understand how to coach him and not take for granted some things that a guy who’s played on defense a little bit longer just understands just from playing it. I did a poor job with him.”
Something else that won’t be taken for granted? Shields’ spot on the depth chart. Whereas he went into training camp last year as the clear-cut third corner behind Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams, Shields will be in a battle when camp kicks off July 26.
The options? Jarrett Bush, who took a number of Shields’ snaps in the team’s NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the New York Giants; 2011 fourth-round pick Davon House, who essentially redshirted last year; rookie second-round pick Casey Hayward, whom the coaches like because he’s not prone to mistakes.
“I’m not looking at that,” Shields said of the competition. “I’m just trying to get better each day and get from the guys like Tramon and Wood, get with them guys.
“I don’t look at last year. I just look at it whatever mistakes I had, I look at it this year as helping me out. And it’s getting better and better every day.”
While defensive coordinator Dom Capers said it didn’t mean anything, Bush did appear to be ahead of Shields throughout organized team activity practices and the two open-to-the-public mandatory minicamp practices last month.
It is prudent to remember that Shields did spend his first three college seasons at Miami (Fla.) as a wide receiver, so he is still learning to play the position. That said, there’s no room for excuses this year, especially with the coaching staff needing depth at corner in order to use Woodson the way they want to. Shields will not only have to improve in coverage, where he gambled more than he did as a rookie and relied on his excellent speed to try to make up for it, but as a tackler as well.
“My main focus that I have to work on is my tackling. I don’t think the covering and all that was bad. Only thing that was stopping me was tackling, and that’s something that I have to keep working on that I haven’t worked on,” Shields said. “I’ve been a receiver. So I’m going to work on it this offseason – however I can to help me tackle. Coach Witt is helping me work on that and it’s getting better.”
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